The Commonwealth Journalists Association wishes Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma success on his forthcoming visit to The Gambia and urges him to send a forceful message to President Yahya Jammeh regarding the deteriorating conditions for a proper functioning news media in his country.
Our colleagues in the Commonwealth Journalists Association report that media in The Gambia remains under sustained pressure through prosecutions for sedition and criminal libel, government closure of news agencies, intimidation and physical attacks on journalists. We support the urgent call for legal and institutional reform that will bring The Gambia's media laws in line with international standards and indeed with human rights agreements that the government has signed.
The Secretary-General has the excellent report by the Expert Group he dispatched to The Gambia last November to observe the federal election. Among other deficiencies in the country's democratic processes, the Expert Group report was especially critical of the appallingly sad state of Gambian news media. We urge the Secretary-General to address these issues with President Jammeh.
The group's report noted:
“Although the Gambian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, several Criminal Code amendments related to the offence of 'Seditious Publication' make any written or oral statement that is critical of the government an offence that carries stiff penalties in the form of imprisonment and heavy fines. There are numerous sections and sub-sections to the law that by any measure effectively make free and independent journalism an impossible and perilous goal. .
And although President Jammeh has toned down his calculated and threatening rhetoric about journalists, his Election Day news conference clearly revealed he has lost none of the contempt he has previously and aggressively exhibited towards them.
Members of the observation team know only too well that the persecution suffered by Gambian journalists and the monitoring of those abuses by international monitoring bodies, has had a damaging effect on this proud nation's international reputation...
A free and independent news media is a vital organ in the body of any democracy worthy of the name, but such is the oppressed and under-developed state of journalism in The Gambia that the Expert Group must regrettably report that the 'fair play and daylight' professional reporting brings to the ongoing democratic political process is almost non-existent here.
Free and independent news media, operating within internationally recognized ethical standards and within reasonable laws of libel and slander, can only breathe life into Gambian democracy.”
The Expert Group detailed numerous examples of state-sponsored abuse of journalists. The full report can be found on the Commonwealth Secretariat's website at http://bit.ly/I2i9Wi
We urge the Secretary-General to take these examples, and the general concerns expressed by the experts and our journalist colleagues in The Gambia, and seek commitments from President Jammeh that he will institute immediate reform of these archaic, unacceptable restrictions on journalists and abide by the democratic standards that all Commonwealth nations are bound to honour.